Thursday, December 28, 2006

On Curious Food Traditions

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!
One of the things that made our time in France last fall so wonderful was the wealth of new food experiences we had (like Jeff's chestnut creme Belgian waffle at right). Well, back here stateside, I’m stuck again with Chick-fil-a, China Inn and Tex-mex. While I’m quite fond of any of the above, they tend to blend into the humdrum of life.

Then arrive the holidays. That particular time of year when we gather with family, whether willingly or unwillingly, and somehow the nostalgia of it all seems to brush the rough edges a little smoother. And there is none so central to these holiday gatherings as food, and at no other time of year do more traditions make their way to the communal table. For example, my employer went all out for a traditional Thanksgiving meal (okay, well, it was a potluck. They bought us Turkey, I brought store-bought pecan pie). However, for Christmas, we had catered barbeque lunch. Call it bucking tradition, but who knows that for some of you, the smell of pulled pork and vinegar sauce means nothing less than Merry Christmas.

My family’s holiday table has never been too steeped in oddity, but we like tradition. Turkey for Thanksgiving, never anything made of sweet potatoes (to Jeff’s horror), and Sister Schubert’s yeast rolls. Christmas dinner tends to center around a pork roast or some sort of beef with a fancy name. I believe this year was “standing crown roast”. Methinks we should have all been seated in some royal hall, wearing pelts and fancy headgear lifting our goblets. Sadly, it was just my sister's kitchen table, though we did raise our goblets, er, glasses to Christ, since He is after all the reason we do celebratory things this time of year like indulging in crown roast and Sister Schubert’s yeast rolls (yes, we have them on Christmas too).

While I appreciate my family's traditions, one thing I love about being married to Jeff is the decidedly Amish-country bent that his family’s traditional meals have. Foods of which I could ne'er have dreamt have been gracing their holiday table for years. And now, I can freely say, I’d been missing out before I had them. Have you experienced home-made hamloaf? Think meatloaf, but with a sweet glaze and several lovely Mennonite women with head coverings joining you. Corn pudding is another Lancaster favorite. It joins the ranks with Himalayas Indian food as something Jeff and I will eat until we’re sick.

Then there are the food oddities that have nothing to do with Pennsylvania Dutch culture or the northeast, but are just Weaver. Jeff’s mum’s homemade pizza is always served with applesauce and peanut butter, unabashedly, as if these were natural pairings. Chicken Corn Soup is another favorite of mine, and in his family’s home, it’s always served with blueberry muffins. Logical, perhaps not. The warmth of tradition that makes all right in the world for an hour, absolutely.

We all have them, odd holiday meals that serve as benchmarks for us, funny dinner-table traditions that no one else could understand.

What are some of your family’s traditions or regional foods that may seem odd to us, but make you smile?

Monday, November 13, 2006

Almost Famous: The Music Addition

aaah, the simple days of 1 yr. ago.
No car, just legs. -->

Before my intended post...I'll fish for sympathy, or laughs, or both with a brief rundown of the Weavers' last 36 hours. We've, wrecked our new car rendering it undrive-able. Today we (read: I) got a ticket with the other car - illegal left turn. Immediately after, it got a flat tire. In short, the wreck was not our fault and nobody was hurt. Ticket, I deserved it. Tire, 2 plugs could not fix the gaping hole...only removing the darn tire from its frame and patching it from the inside could remedy the problem, for now. And, while I waited for the fix in the freezing cold, I thought again of those blissful days in France when we didn't have to deal with bloody cars. Done.

Now to Music

Some of my favorite family photos include one of my Uncle Henry at a young age hunched with full concentration over his shiny accordion. I don't recall if the moment was captured while the family was still in Germany, or if it was state-side. Regardless, this image was a telling sign of things to come for the Wittgens family. Many a Michigan family reunion has included Uncle Henry leading us through accordion sing-alongs. Seriously. And I love every minute of it.

A few years before my Oma died, we discovered a Mandolin hidden away in the corner of her tiny home, another hint at the music in our veins. My Uncle Jim used to serenade me with that WWI classic about studdering "K-k-k-katie, beautiful Katie."

And one of my greatest Grand Rapids family memories, and I think others would agree, is our trips to "Roaring Twenties", which later became "Good Time Charley's". The whole Wittgens clan would cram around a long table - kids at one end, adults at the other. We'd eat mediocre pizza and wait with bated breath for the main attraction. When that giant pipe organ would ascend from the musty floorboards like it had a thousand nights before, with all the fanfare of a head of state. Smoke, flashing lights and ooh's and aahs became accompanyment to the booming pipes of "Good Time Charley" serenading us during that magical rise from nowhere. As the night progressed we would sing along to old favorites, the adults would make their way to the small dance floor and surprise, or likely embarrass, us kids with their refined dance moves to some Sousa waltz.

I remember returning to Good Time Charley's some years later, and from the settling smoke of Charley's Pipes a karaoke set had arisen. Sad for Charley, but perfect for a few of us cousins who put together a parent-pleasing rendition of "My Boyfriends Back". Dubbed "the Wittgens Chicks" from then on, we cousins became the talk of the family for our musical antics. Now, many years removed from karaoke and those living room jam sessions on Aunt Betty's old Hammond organ, we're still making music.

My cousin Andrea Wittgens may have missed out on that fateful karaoke night, and her career is the better for it: she just opened for Grammy-award winning artist Shawn Colvin a few week's ago! How cool is that. Andrea's a Seattle singer-songwriter who I daresay I look up to. She used to awe me with her acrobatic swan dives and flips from Aunt Betty's diving board, now its her voice and songwriting. Check out Andrea's web site and new EP, Alibi.

The Ming Dynasty is a little musical project that I've been working on with Jeff and some other friends. Now, we haven't opened for any Grammy nominees or anything, but we have ascended to MySpace-dom. I admit to being a rookie at this whole thing but if you want to listen to a few songs and be our "friend", come visit our MySpace page.

We've not played a show as a band in a long time, but Jeff and I did have a pretty cool "solo" gig a few weeks ago. We recently took a trip to Brazil to visit some friends and while there, we did an extremely "unplugged" performance of 2 Ming Dynasty tunes. Our audience was a group of youth, both middle-class and poor, orphaned teens, togther on a friday night in a run-down public school activity area in a Rio de Janeiro suburb. About 35 youth (a few future fans pictured below) listened, and sang along as we played through a couple of our songs. They may not have understood many of the words but they were incredibly appreciative and became quite a Ming Dynasty fanclub. One of the students' moms actually works for a Rio radio station (albeit an easy-listening station) and was a tad over-enthusiastic about the music, assuring us a radio-sponsored concert there should we return. We all had a good laugh about the whole thing.

What made this performance so special and unique was the kids and their enthusiasm for music. Knowing even small pieces of some of their heartbraking stories, we were so glad to bring song to those kids for a few minutes. Many of you have asked to see pics from our Brazil trip. I apologize that life has become quite full since our return and the media still sits on our camera.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Almost Famous

I don't know if I should take it as a sign that my musings are missed, or that my friends are just bored, but 2, count 'em, 2 folks commented to me this evening that I hadn't updated the blog in a while. It gave me a fleeting warm fuzzy feeling to know that they cared and were checking in. The fuzzies were quickly overshadowed by a brow-furrowing sadness that my life has become either too busy, or too boring to have anything to write about.

So, I scanned last last October's blogs, and decided we'd get in the 'ol way-back-machine for a few minutes and reminisce about 1 year ago.
I was resting up (it is 6 hours later in France, after all) after a misty, beautiful Friday drive from Nantes to the Normandy region. Perhaps we were in Bayeux, looking into small but brilliant Cathedral nooks like this:

A few hours from now, we would be waking from comfortable slumber (remember, any bed other than our thin, tiny trailer park bed was like heaven). Our day probably started with thick coffee with thick milk and some divine locally baked pastry - enough to fuel us up as we took to the beaches made famous by D-Day. The bright sunshine seemed to fade those ghosts of years past who took those shores like heroes. We just stood and contemplated the placid sea, thinking of those young people, not too different from us, who had been there over 60 years prior. .

But reminscing can only get you so far. Today is today, and while I often miss France desperately, back here at home we have friends, family, and well, a touch of fame to enjoy. Not only has bizarro Jeff Weaver helped pitch his Cardinals to the World Series (eh..see we didn't have October baseball's magic to enjoy last fall), but the REAL Jeff Weaver has a touch of fame as well, along with several of our other pals.

Backstory: Our community group from church did a volunteer project one saturday at Cafe 458. In short, they serve good, dignified meals to Atlanta's homeless community during the week, then raise funds on the weekends by serving good, dignified meals to whoever will pay for them to support the Cafe's mission. We all played wait staff and dish-washers for the day, and really enjoyed ourselves and the folks at Cafe 458. The spirit was captured wonderfully on film by patron (and fellow community-groupie) Michael Shivers. Some brass at Mastercard found these photos on his page and bam! Moolah for Michael and 15 minutes for Jeff and some of our friends. Visit (quickly before some new do-gooders steal our thunder).

Coming Soon...."Almost Famous - The Music Addition"

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

A Cool Thing Happened

Did you know you can put my blog on RSS, direct to your desktop! That means every 4-5 weeks, when news breaks from Katie's are the FIRST to know.

So, a cool thing happened, speaking of...someone actually checked into the blog UNPROVOKED by an email! Thanks Matt A for commenting on the Two Urban Licks Review (see Aug. 31 post below).

What I did on my holiday weekend -
The birthday lingered on with Salsa dancing at Havana Club on Friday night 'til about 2am. We got an early start on Saturday for Highlands, NC where we spent the weekend in the beautiful Appalachian mountains with my wonderful family. We picked some fresh blueberries from the backyard, read, played games, visited friends in Asheville and just enjoyed the time. 'Cause, you know, God lives there. We love it. Jeff and I took a hike on Labor day in and around Yellow Mountain. We even managed to avoid rattlesnakes this time (but not yellowjackets).

Representative Highlands picture below: "Outdoor Ken" Comes complete with hand-held GPS, quick-dry hiking clothes and Subaru Outback! (Euro-hip glasses sold seperately).

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Two Urban Licks

AUG 31st.
I sat down a few days ago and penned a blog entry about “good things”. About how 2 of my friends, on of them particularly jobless got jobs. And how my friends’ baby just turned 1…. Her story is one of heartache that has ended in delight. But see, then one of my aforementioned jobless friends’ dad died. He lost his battle with AIDS last week, and she is devastated. And that job fell through. Now another friend is sitting beside her dad as cancer closes in, and there are others.

So, amid the mixed emotions, I suppose I’ll write a restaurant review. Certainly a few good things in the form of food and my husband have come along for me this week. We had a lovely birthday dinner out at a restaurant I’ve wanted to try: Two Urban Licks.

Upon opening, “Two” was the IT restaurant in Atlanta. Part of the now-booming downtown revival, just down the road from the Carter Center and MLK memorial, the folks of Two took an old garage / warehouse and converted into the hipster foodie hangout that needed months for weekend reservations early on.

It’s a hunt to find, but once there, and once having turned your car over to complimentary valet, the place oozes urban hip. Tall stainless steel doors bring you into a high-ceilinged, well, warehouse. Complete with steel grey curtains, candelabras climbing up the black walls and a trend-setting crowd around the bar, sipping mixed drinks listening to live jazz. Further into the space, the open kitchen is the centerpiece. Fires blaze while hurried men in white coats flip things, prep plates and look busy. It is anything but distracting though; rather, the stainless appliances and white-coats tend to meld into the modern, industrial d├ęcor.

The edginess of the black, gray and stainless steel is tempered by candlelight and the giant red silk chandeliers that cast a pleasant hue on diners. Then there’s the calm that comes from the art. On one of Two’s giant walls, an equally giant painting looks over the space and brings serenity. I’ll leave the painting for you to discover and get on to the meal.

If the review thus far sounds vaguely familiar – converted warehouse space, haven of the new urban hipster scene – you’re right, from the moment we entered it had the feel of Rathbun’s, which I’ve previously reviewed. Thus the bar was set, everything which followed our first steps inside Two Urban Licks had to be compared with Rathbun’s, whether we wanted to or not.

The service did not disappoint. Kerry was informative, seemed to enjoy his job, and had some good tips and descriptions as we sorted through an appropriate wine choice. More on that later.

Despite Jeff’s general aversion to tomatoes, it was my birthday and I wanted to try the recommended Two Salad – think Caprese with class. It was predictably scrumptious with vine-fresh tomatoes topped with fine Italian mozzarella and fresh basil. The three little pieces of art were then drizzled with olive oil. Jeff even ate one! I thought it was a tad salty, but Jeff disagreed. Regardless it was an exploration in local, fresh ingredients, so hard to come by in restaurants these days.

Ah, a brief bread mention…uninteresting to say the least. An apparent hoagie roll sliced then buttered with garlic and herbs, wrapped in paper. Not a far cry from any Italian restaurant’s opener, but very far from the wonderful artisan breads we enjoyed at Rathbuns.

But the bread is not the feature here. So, it was on to the meal. Two, like Rathbuns, crafts its menu around a New South type cuisine incorporating elements like grits, low-country shrimp and the like. But while Rathbun’s combined these things into fresh-tasting memorable dishes, we were less impressed with Two’s version. They arrived in boat-like oblong dishes, more hip, less artful than I would have expected. The first hint that maybe Two’s fancy comfort food concept is lost somewhere in the middle. And, as I told Jeff, no matter how gourmand you are, Fried fish and coleslaw is still fried fish and slaw. Granted, it was the best fried fish I’ve ever tasted, and probably the most intricate, flavorful slaw, it was still…well, you know, fried fish n slaw.

My scallops were seared beautifully, that succulent melt-in-your mouth quality that just comes from good scallops. I rarely eat them, but when I do, I savor every bite of those tasty medallions. These were dusted with something a little more fiery than I was expecting, which took a little from the scallops’ flavor and the wine. They rested, er, floated on smoked Gouda grits, which were richly delightful, but less than hearty. The smoked tomato puree on the side was a lovely addition and nice, inventive dip for the scallops.

I was perhaps most pleased with the wine, a California Pinot from Russian River Valley. It had a beautiful complexity that, surprisingly for a Pinot, was great for sipping, but of course, paired well our food. Especially the Caprese salad.

In all, we really enjoyed our time there, the space was amazing, and the food was great. But... it just didn’t have the Wow factor that Rathbun’s did, where every bite seemed perfect and where any conversation took back seat to the food.

P.S. If you're not so much into restaurant stuff, at least go see Little Miss Sunshine. Great performances and quirky characters brilliantly craft potentially sad situations into humourous ones...I laughed hard.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

It's Atlanta!

Can you believe it's already 10 years since the '96 Atlanta Olympics?

You probably have some memories of that year. It was a major event in the lives of Atlantans. This was made strikingly clear to me the other day when, in a conversation with Jeff, I jokingly said, ”To Dee City of….Ahtlahnta” in a very Juan Antonio Samaranch accented voice. Jeff is not an Atlanta native, thus he had no idea what I was referencing, as many of you may not. I was imitating that famous early-morning announcement by the IOC President that our city had captured the dream. My school parking lot rang out with honking horns that morning and the city was abuzz for the day, weeks, and years leading up to our chance to welcome the world.

Maybe you didn’t live here, but us Atlantans remember eerily empty rush-hours, United Nations-like representation on Marta trains, the world’s news teams camped out in our city and a corporate “Olympic city” like none the world had seen. It’s like the Fortune100 threw up in downtown, giant chunks of glitzy, neon, Olympic marketing.

Now, I'll admit I was in collusion with this, some would say, uglier side of the Olympic memory. I volunteered at “Nike Park,” a multi-level homage to the goddess herself. The goddess wears expensive tennis shoes and makes lots of money convincing everyone else they should too. I won’t lie to you, my Swoosh summer was exciting: ushering people to one of various interactive stations where they could hop next to a regulation beach volleyball net or line up in track pose next to a cardboard cut-out of…gold-shoes guy…ah yes, Michael Johnson.

I got a neat outfit – a pair of Nike Ked-like sneakers, blue Nike shorts and a couple T-shirts which had “96” and a swoosh emblazoned on them. Rumor has it that in the Olympic memorabilia frenzy one of my co-laborers was offered $500 for the shirt off his back. I said at the time that had it been me I don’t think I’dve sold it. I’m stupid. I also probably thought I'd need that commemorative BellSouth Olympic pin someday. In all, my Nike park experience was a good one. I got to be downtown in the mix, see some celebs and attend the memorable post-bomb re-opening of Centennial Park.

My Nike gig came about as part of my participation in missions organization YWAM's olympic outreach. YWAM worked closely with olympic organizers to provide volunteers at all levels of all ages. So when I wasn’t directing people toward those misting “cooling stations”, I was going to worship services with a thousand other YWAM volunteers, playing hackey-sack and sleeping on a gym floor for 3 weeks with 250 crazy teenagers like me. We shared about 10 showers between us all. To avoid cold water and long waits, I developed a routine of waking up at 4am to shower, then returning to the “comfort” of my spot on the floor for another few hours. I ate lots of peanut butter and jelly that summer.

Its amazing to think that us YWAM kids were just 250 of thousands, tens of thousands of people young and old who flooded our city to work, volunteer, preach, sell stuff, you name it…all to be a part of this global event. We were a community in glorious struggle for 3 hot July weeks. God was very good to us and to our city.

What are some of your recollections or leftover memorabilia from that summer, just 10 summers ago?

Monday, July 10, 2006

Final World Cup Thoughts

I feel rather exhausted at the moment. I’ve just finished mopping up the last of my “breakfast for dinner” scrambled eggs and toast. Sure, I awoke at 7:45 this morning after a late night, sang in two church services, and just a few short hours ago my house bustled with the excited faces of American soccer fans. Those who came into this World Cup adventure swearing that they wouldn’t care, then finding themselves swept up. That made me happy. But I didn’t know I would be so exhausted and sad when it all ended.

As anyone at our little Championship gathering can attest, the Weaver allegiances were unmistakable: A giant blue hydrangea with a hangtag reading “Allez Les Bleus” adorned my front door. My table spread with all things red, white and blue to support… France of course. There was Parisian kitch (from Target no less), blueberries, cherries, and the requisite baguette, butter and camembert. Sadly, the $10 Champagne still rests comfortably on my fridge’s top shelf. There was no need for uncorking or celebration this afternoon.

Sure, I am sad that France lost, but sadder still at the surprising exit of Zinedine Zidane, who had fast become my tournament hero. The 34 year old star returning to the game, as beautiful as ever, exchanging handshakes and hugs with opposing players, rarely feigning fouls (“diving”) during games. His playing is beauty and Zidane seemed to me a class act. Which is why his senseless head-butt to the chest of an opposing player, resulting in his ejection was so frustrating. Even had France won, what a blemish to endure. French papers reported the stunned disappointment of French fans, packed onto the Champs Elysees, unable to relive the glory of ‘98.

I hope they don’t blame “Zizou” for the loss, Italy played outstanding defense and deserved to win. But I’m still sad to say bye to Zidane that way, and equally as unready to say goodbye to this quadrennial funfest of international togetherness. To flag-waving Germans who finally feel safe to rally around their country again. To Ivory Coast players whose World Cup presence halted civil war. To the mediocre American broadcast team on ESPN and ABC who tried their darndest to get all of us ignorant gringos to like soccer. To my lovely, non-sporty mum screaming at the TV and talking footie like she’s been watching it for years. To now-empty pubs, and streets and city-squares that hosted millions of fans of all colors, sizes, economic backgrounds all there together to watch, dream and soak in every moment of one of the globe’s great equalizers: sport.

Thanks for enduring the soccer craze. I’ll get back to restaurant reviews and travelogues soon enough. Allez Les Braves.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Copa Mundial

sorry for your team...(5th of World (FIFA) that is a
big mistake...)

bisous de france

i write you later after we win the world cup

-Matthieu B., in an email to me

As predicted by some of our French friends, the US is down and out of this World Cup, in no small thanks to their inability to create offense. So now my sights turn to the remaining teams. It seems that nearly each country gives me a reason to root for them. Here are some of my favorites (In no particular order)…

– This is an easy one. My people. I am a Wittgens, the child of a German immigrant. Before his family fled the Russian occupation, then emigrated to the US, my dad spent his youth in East(ern) Germany playing fussball in the streets and rooting on Borussia Dortmund. Surely the host nation has my Deutschland heart. I think... They sure looked brilliant against Sweden, I would not be unhappy if they took it all this year.

FranceMon pays deuxieme. You don’t spend 4 months in, amidst, around a country like France and not love it, at least not if you’re Jeff and Katie Weaver. We watched Ligue 1 matches with friends, saw the national rugby team play live, drank Pastis, and trash-talked about soccer. As Matthieu kindly pointed out, our team didn’t live up to the hype, mais franchement...neither have les bleus so far. I still have to root for them though, at least their rouge, blanc et bleu made the 2nd round.

To have France pitted against Spain (Tuesday afternoon) is a difficult quandary. Spain is like my forbidden fruit. The one nation in Europe that most intrigues me, and the only mainland nation where I can speak the native tongue, yet I’ve never been there. I have good friends from Spain and I really love Manchego cheese. But I must raise a glass of Bordeaux rather than Tempranillo for this confrontation.

England – Another of football’s alleged superpowers who have looked less than stellar this tournament. From a pure aesthetic standpoint, the boys in red and white have possibly the best looking team on the pitch, and a charming feature film named after one of their stars. I’ve lived in England for a spell, watched many a Hyde Park pick-up game, and even taken in a Tottenham match at Whiteheart Lane. I know how much pride the English have for their footie. Take it from our favorite ex-pat in London (check out his Blackgate Blog!). I'm sure there will be utter devastation (and lots of drinking) the day England loses.

Speaking of drinking... The keeper on my recreational team is English. He showed up for our game the other night after 5 hrs and even more pints at the pub watching his boys battle. Best part is, he kept an amazing game for us, helping us win. Gotta love the English.

– Perhaps Jeff's and my favorite country in Europe. God lives in those mountains (right Michael S.?!). I’ve had some of my most memorable experiences in Switzerland, as has Jeff. The Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
cheeses, chalets, they all seem near heaven to me. I don’t think the Swiss have a yodler's chance to win the Cup (don't know what that means but it's got a nice ring); however, for their next match vs. Ukraine, I'll pick chocolate over borscht. Allez les Suisses.

Brazil – They epitomize the beautiful game. The yellow clad artists show gamesmanship and skill unlike other teams. And their team is favored to win this thing again. The culture of Brazil intrigues me: soccer and samba, carnivale and caparinhas, and on and on. I was a Latin-American studies minor in college, but never visited Brazil or learned Portuguese. I’ve heard that if you visit, you’ll never want to leave. I have friends from Brazil, and friends living in Brazil (more on them later...we hope to visit this fall.) I even have a small Brazilian flag. I need an excuse to wave it some more, so I’ll pick them to move on, probably to the finals.

Australia – The Socceroos have a cute name. Their fans boo like our US fans (all the others’ whistle when their angry). Or maybe their just yelling “kangaROOOO”. (I apologize for those who’ve heard that “joke” already from me.) The Aussie’s have played with such grit and excitement that they’ve probably converted longtime cricket and rugby fans into soccer crazies. Plus, who understands that Australian rules football anyway? I’ve got friends (okay, and an old flame) who’re Oz, and they love their country and will be feverishly rooting on their boys to victory at some ungodly hour in the streets of Sydney. While I love Gelato as much as the next person, I'd love to see Vegemite nation triumph in the upcoming Aussie-Italy clash (Monday).

And a word on Ghana – The Black Stars knocked out my US team. However, as I stood kavetsching with friends about our missed chances, I realized that whatever doom or frustration I've felt is SO far eclipsed by the sheer joy in the entire nation of Ghana, it makes it easier to take. My highschool biology teacher was from Ghana. A friend and co-worker once lived in Ghana. Plus, I'm a sucker for the underdog. All said, I think their next opponent (Brazil) is just too good.

So, there is my culinary, cultural, and virtually un-strategic reasons for picking favorites.

And finally..for a TRUE insider view and wonderful commentary on the world cup proceedings, and Europe in general, visit Andrew and Donna Helms' blog. They're back home stateside now, but their fan-hood and fun euro experiences make great blogging. (I should know, Weaver blog has gone way downhill since we left inspiring France).

So who are you pulling for?

Monday, June 12, 2006

World Cup

Jeff and I just returned from 4 days of vacation at Amelia Island, courtesy of Emory. Jeff actually had to work the mornings, but in the afternoons we were able to do fun things like play tennis, read by the pool and throw frisbee on the beach. (And stroll lovely canopied paths like that pictured at right). Mind you, any of the aforementioned activities required fierce fueling up with electrolytes, or just plain water since the heat and humidity were pretty intense. Oh well, what better place to be in such conditions than by the pool with an ocean breeze (or on a breeze-less tennis court? ...we're crazy like that).

Speaking of tennis...I found that in lieu of reading celebrity gossip magazines by the crowded pool, I preferred to hunker away most mornings in the hotel room, enjoying sports heaven. I tell you, I had French Open finals to watch, and World Cup matches from 9-3 everyday and no other real kind of vacation. I'm not like most other girls with this sports fascination, and I'm okay with that. But, so I don't sound like too much of a vacation spoiler, I did sit by the pool and read through one whole celebrity gossip magazine and sip a pink frosty drink while a guy played Jimmy Buffett covers in the background. In my other free time, I preferred to join with the world in watching the greatest game, with rapt attention.

Sadly, our US team's much anticipated opener vs. Czech Republic didn't go as well as I'd hoped. I had a dream last night that we'd gotten the game time wrong so we couldn't get to the pub in time. I had a hard time falling back asleep. I'm pretty excited about this World Cup thing. As exhibit B - Jeff and I skipped work today to join some friends at a pub and watch the match. Despite the loss, I was glad to have done it.

Hey, if we can't live in France least we can act like Europeans!

Allez les Bleus (pour mes amis Francais!)
& Go USA.

"Don't blame the sweet and tender hooligan..."

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Peanut Butter Is A Many Splendored Thing

Family Update: The last few Weaver weeks haven’t been too busy - I've watched lots of basketball, Jeff has studied, I've beat Jeff in tennis (sorry..had to say it), and we hit the studio with the band to lay down tracks for our 2nd song. It's still got some tweaking to do, but we're pretty excited about it. I'll try to post a clip when one of the 2 is nailed down. No news of upcoming gigs as of now.

Tonight, I tended to a sick husband. To join his spirit’s solemnity in remembrance of his father’s death 12 years ago today, Jeff’s body took a day of rest. It started as a 103 degree fever and has declined in severity to a bad throat-ache and lots of soup and saltines. Two years into this marriage thing and only a few sicknesses later, I’m still learning whether I’m to coddle him like a mommy or just get the heck out of the way. I think a certain amount of coddling is called for (held in good balance with getting the heck out of the way).

Ode to Peanut Butter.
I started this post with a restaurant review, but I scrapped it because I got distracted trying to get peanut-butter from the roof of my mouth. Nothing says midnight like some toast smothered with peanut butter topped with raisins or dried cranberries. Mmm.

Peanut Butter is a national past time. It’s like baseball…without the steroids. Throughout the world there are wine connoisseurs, coffee snobs and cigar aficionados. I wouldn’t necessarily use any of the above adjectives to describe my relationship with peanut butter. However, based on our sheer consumption, both Jeff and I could use the less admired descriptor, peanut butter addict.

Tonight I indulged in Jif – straight-forward creamy style. While I like the notion of chunky, its just hard to spread and you end up eating lots more I think. For the value I find Jif creamy to be good, spreadable, and much nuttier tasting that generic versions of the same ilk. Hydrogenated oils and other odd additives aside, Jif Creamy is good eating.

The ultimate in my opinion is, Smuckers’ All Natural Creamy. You know the stuff with the big oil pool at the top when you open it. True, I have to work at a new jar with a knife for a good 5 minutes. Its a careful mixing process - combine the oil and peanuts while not spilling the fragrant peanut oil on myself and suddenly smelling like a Chic Fil A cook. I keep a jar of this golden splendor at work, which is probably feeds the habit to have it so handy..oh well. I must note that I have also tried generic brands of Natural Peanut Butter, Publix, Target, Kroger…none compare to Smuckers. The others get dry and crumbly at the bottom of the jar and don’t have the salty, yet nutty sweetness of the Smuckers. It is so rich in flavor in fact, that I probably use less of it than I would of conventional creamy PB.

I missed my Smuckers while in France last fall…but we were not totally deprived of our favorite food/condiment (?). Mississippi Belle Peanut Butter was one brand we discovered in France - the ONLY brand we found in France actually. Who knows how long it sat on the shelves of that Nantes supermarket before we stumbled upon it. After all, the notion of making a spread of cacahuetes is rather revolting to the French. Intestine sausages: A-okay. Peanut spread: Degoutant! Found snuggled in between locally grown honey and Nutella, Mississippi Belle was our comfort food. Great on left-over baguette for breakfast, as a dip for digestives (a favorite cookie of ours that we smuggled from the UK) or just plain by-the-spoonful eating.

Mississippi Belle peanut butter is imported to Europe – chalk up one for US food product exports! Chipping away at our whopping trade deficit one American in Paris at a time. I heard that to object US foreign policy decisions, the French were smearing the streets with Peanut Butter. Mmmm….foreign policy protests.. ;-)

And speaking of protests – check out CNN or the BBC coverage of the massive protests you may or may not have heard about in France. Unrest is alive in well in many French cities, including Nantes,where within the last few days around 40,000 students, teachers and workers have taken to the very streets we walked a few months ago. This is a very critical time for France.

In Closing...
Odd things that Peanut-butter addicts like us combine with peanut butter…
  • Jeff – Cottage cheese, honey, peanut butter.
  • Jeff ‘s family – Pizza, applesauce and PB
  • Katie & Jeff – carrots dipped in PB, bananas n PB, apples n PB, celery w/ PB & raisins...
  • Katie – Oatmeal with cream, strawberries, and PB

You may have some favorite brands, other nut spreads or odd combinations with Peanut Butter. Feel free to share.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Restaurant Review and Other Surprises

Once again, you may or may not have been wondering what I've been up to lately. Besides not blogging. Well, truth may not have seen me on the Barbara Walter's special, but I have had a little side project going on.

Somehow between my Thunderbolt Kicks, Jeff and I managed to celebrate our 2 year anniversarry on March 6. It's been 2 amazing years of adventure, love, misunderstandings laughs and lots of Indian food.

Speaking of celebrate our two years as Weavers, Jeff took me to a restaurant that I had heard good things about, but never tried. It turned out to be quite possibly the best meal I've ever had in Atlanta not cooked by my mom.

Rathbuns - American cuisine tucked away in a converted steel mill which lies in the heart of Atlanta's Urban renewal explosion. While countless mills and factories in the area have given way to lofts and condoes, so for the neighborhood's most valuable addition is the brainchild, and namesake of renowned Atlanta chef Kevin Rathbun. He has taken his Buckhead restaurant experience at spots like BluePointe and Nava, and added his own nouveau southern accent to create an outstanding melange of fresh, culinary interplay.

The offerings, both "small plates" and larger entrees are a creative blend of Asian, French, fresh, and tres fatty. But make no mistake, this is a restaurant in the heart of the new south. Sides like country ham grits, creamed corn with gouda and smoked mashed potatoes pay homage to Mr. Rathbun's roots. As did Jeff's entree - Seared Cod and sauteed shrimp over smoked mashed potatoes with slivered almonds and cranberries.

Now, you won't find many a gourmande making cod fancy, but this was an outstanding preparation of no-knife-needed fish, and some of the freshest tasting shrimp I've had in a while. My small plate sampling included Rathbun's signature dish, and his mama's recipe, of Eggplant fries dusted with powdered sugar, served with a brilliantly yin/yang side of tabasco and powdered sugar for dipping. While delighful and different, this was probably my least favorite of the plates. My lamb scaloppini was out of this world, its apricot sauce had fresh mint, bacon and little teaser cubes of goat gouda. Okay, combining the sharpness of chevre with the creamy comfort of gouda..I couldve eaten a block of JUST the cheese.

Perhaps the most surprisingly good small plate were the salmon tostadas. How can a smoked salmon taste THAT fresh - not overly salty, but perfectly smokey with a sunset pink hue that melted in my mouth. Each little chunk was served on a crispy cracker with a habanero creme fresh. An exciting kick on the back end of each bite. I should also note, that the pre-meal bread was the best I've ever had at a restaurant for pure freshness, unique herb flavors and salted-crust taste.

Dessert, briefly, because it was tiny, but just what our stuffed tummies needed - a banana peanut-butter creme pie. Seriously, had one of us happened to get a head-wound or have a digit cut off during dinner...we would have stayed for the pie... It's Jeff's favorite combination of flavors and I'm just a general sucker for sweet things. It was fabulous, and just the right size (they do "small plate" desserts too).

Final libation note: on our waiter's recommendation, we tested a Pinot Noir (2003 Porta, Bio Bio Valley) from surprising Chile and it was outstanding in value and taste. A classic burgundian bite that accompanied our diverse meal selections wonderfully.

Ambience: Very hip, but not pretentious. We saw all types there - business casual folks, hipster friends and elderly couples. High ceilings and textured brick walls make it less intimate than some other options, but we were successfully able to enjoy each other company and conversation... then the food came, all chatter ceased and for the next 30 minutes we gazed lovingly at the food before us and our empty forks... Visit Rathbun's.

Review over. Maybe more to come, if we can think of more anniversarry's to celebrate. Next big event - Jeff's graduation (finally!) from MBA academy. May 2.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Writing Again, at long last

We’re back. Well, that’s obvious. We left from France over a month ago. I’ve been in silent mourning since our departure, thus the promised postlude has been slow in coming. Truly, our return in December was overwhelming, busy, family-filled, wonderful, sad and suddenly we were right back where we’d left 4 ½ months prior. 8-lane highways, crowded malls, comfy bed (ah, yes, how I missed the comfy bed), TV watching, eating Mexican food, spending time with family and community.

The precarious mix of good and not-so-good things that fill our normal life took shape once again, and sometimes I forget I was able to step out of it for a season. The questions are waning- “how was it”, “how’s the adjustment”, “didn’t you miss America?” etc. I haven’t minded answering them. I think that the overwhelming experience of having to articulate our wonderful French season at a moment's notice, and to explain the inexplicable to someone’s inquisitive eyes has helped me to process. And that, my friends, must be why I haven’t written. I have needed no outlet here in my English-speaking world…there is community all around, and it is wonderful. Mais...ils me manque mes amis en France.

I had promised them that my first entry when we got back would be in French, just for them. Maybe that’s why I haven’t written. Alors, desolee mes amis. Bien que ma francais est mauvais. Vraiment c’est dificile a ecrire en France presque maitenent il y a plus d'un mois depuis nous avons parti. Me manque le fromage, le Centre Ville, les heurs paser dans LU…bien mangee et bien bu. Merci petit Jesus.:-)

Now, my world is occupied with real life. This American Life. I commute 20 minutes everyday in my car to work at National Allergy Supply. You can watch this clip to find out why I do some of what I do. Or googlestalk us and buy some allergy products. Tell ‘em Katie sent ya.

Jeff works HERE. He’s moved up in the Emory world and is still trying to figure it all out. He’s learning a lot, and finishing out his MBA studies this semester.

We both play in a band that is still nameless…but we’re whittling it down. Those of you in Atlanta are invited to come see us play on February 10th. It’s a church-basement gig, so I have to take out all the cuss words, but there will be tasty coffee, lots of weird people who I love, and a little bit of rock and roll. The fun commences around 8:30.

Before this starts feeling too much like a Christmas letter, I’ll just sign off with a Thank You - to all of you who form our community of friends and family. You made it much easier to come home. And...with a picture of Jeff and I with Otis, a dog that's not ours (long story).
More pics from our last few weeks in France to come.

Death By Sudoku

..ah, the good old days.

Image hosting by Photobucket

-Nantes, Dec. 13, 2005

Captions Welcome.